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Fact-checking Atiku’s claims on Nigeria’s out-of-school-children, poverty, unemployment




A former vice president of Nigeria Atiku Abubakar, on March 28, 2021,  made several claims about Nigeria, saying the country was world’s headquarters for extreme poverty, out-of-school children, and the nation with the highest unemployment rate on earth.

Abubakar made the claims on a Twitter thread he titled ‘World’s Highest Unemployment Rate: Time To Help This Government Help Nigeria.’

His thread was prompted by a Bloomberg report which stated that Nigeria was heading towards taking the position of the country with the highest unemployment rate.

Abubakar rounded off his thread with: “In a situation where we are simultaneously the world headquarters for extreme poverty, the world capital for out of school children, and the nation with the highest unemployment rate on Earth, there is a very real and present danger that we might slip into the failed states index – God forbid!”

The thread has attracted over 14,000 engagements and has been the subject of several news reports.

Claim 1

Is Nigeria the world headquarters for extreme poverty?

The United Nations defines extreme poverty, also known as absolute or abject poverty, as “a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also access to services.”

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The World Bank Commission on Global Poverty tags individuals living below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day as the benchmark for extreme poverty.

In 2018, Nigeria overtook  India to become the poverty headquarters of the world. This was based on the number of people in poverty.

By June of 2018, Nigeria had over 86 million people  – making it nearly 50 per cent of the population – living below the $1.90 poverty line compared to India’s 71.5 million.

A Washington-based research organisation, Brookings, gave a rounded figure of 87 million for Nigeria compared to  73 million for  India, noting that “extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute, while poverty in India continues to fall.”

Fast-forward to April 2021, data from the World Poverty Clock, a web tool produced by the World Data Lab and statistical projections from the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook, put Nigeria’s figure at over 89.8 million, making it 43 per cent of an estimated 209 million population.

On the other hand, India has 86.7 million extremely poor people, which was six per cent of its nearly 1.4 billion estimated population.

This figure still pegged Nigeria as the country with the most people in extreme poverty. As such, the claim by   Abubakar is TRUE.

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The World Poverty Clock data is updated in April and October.

The world poverty clock showing Nigeria’s extreme poverty data.
The world poverty clock showing Nigeria’s extreme poverty data.
The world poverty clock showing India’s extreme poverty data.
The world poverty clock showing India’s extreme poverty data.

Claim 2

Is Nigeria the world capital for out-of-school children?

Earlier in 2021, the Minister of Education for Nigeria Adamu Adamu had said that the number of out-of-school children, which was 10.1 million in 2019, had reduced to 6.946 million in 2020.

However, by March 2021, the country’s Minister of State for Education Emeka Nwajiuba added the figure had increased by 3.054 million, bringing the total to 10 million out-of-school children.

Nwajiuba, while speaking at the official flag- off of the World Bank-sponsored Better Education Service for All (BEDSA) in Dutse, Jigawa State, said: “With an estimated 10.193 million children out-of-school, Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) spokesperson in Nigeria Geoffrey Njoku, in response to the FactCheckHub enquiry on whether Nigeria was the world capital for out-of-school children or not, said: “I don’t think so. It should be India or Pakistan.”

He directed the FactCheckHub to the UNICEF’s website.

A report on the website placed Nigeria out-of-school children at 10.5 million, another report put India’s number at about 6 million, and one other report placed Pakistan’s number at 22.8 million. This report went on to state that “Pakistan has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children (OOSC) with an estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 not attending, school”. It, however, did not state the first.

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These reports were all not dated and it was difficult to determine at what point these countries had these figures.

UNESCO Institute for Statistics database (UIS) records no entry for Nigeria’s out-of-school children.
UNESCO Institute for Statistics database (UIS) records no entry for Nigeria’s out-of-school children.

Missing data

Data released in November 2019 by UNICEF had the figure for Nigeria missing. The data from The World Bank had no entry for Nigeria, Pakistan and some other countries. The same applied to data from UNESCO Institute for  Statistics (UIS) database – which used dots to signify ‘Data not available.’

A UIS Fact Sheet, no 56, released in September 2019, mentioned the countries with the highest out-of-school rates to include: South Sudan (62 per cent), Equatorial Guinea (55 per cent), Eritrea (47 per cent), and Mali (41 per cent).

This could indicate that Nigeria does not have the highest out-of-school rate. It, however, does not answer the question of whether Nigeria has the highest number (population) of out-of-school children or not. As such, the available information cannot debunk or substantiate the claim.

Claim 3

Is Nigeria the nation with the highest unemployment rate on earth?

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has certain criteria to determine unemployment. Some countries apply only a part of these criteria. This inevitably distorts cross-country comparisons.

As a result of this disparity, the claim by Abubakar that Nigeria is the nation with the highest unemployment rate on earth would be tested against various rankings, including  the harmonised ranking by ILO.

Key terms

The labour force consists of all employed and unemployed people within an economy. Unemployment refers to the part of the labour force that is without a job and has been seeking employment.

Source: NBS

The Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) considers individuals between ages 15 to 64 as unemployed if they have no work or have worked for less than 20 hours within the reference period -which is a week.

The most recent data from the NBS as of when this claim was made was for the fourth quarter of 2020. This data has the country’s unemployment rate at 33.3 per cent for a labour force population of 69.8 million and a total unemployed population of 23. 2 million people.

However, the NBS stated that using the international metric,  Nigeria’s unemployment rate would be 17.5 per cent.  This puts Bosnia & Herzegovina and Namibia at the top of the list with 33.7 per cent and 33.4 per cent respectively.

The ranking done by  Trading Economics also lists Bosnia & Herzegovina and Namibia at the top with  33.89 per and  33.4 per cent respectively.

Source: Trading Economics

The World Population Review ranked Burkina Faso tops with 77 per cent.

However, the Index Mundi, citing the CIA World Factbook which was updated on January 21, 2021, placed Bosnia and Herzegovina at number 10 while Burkina Faso topped the list at 77 per cent.

Source: World Population Review

ILO harmonised unemployment rate for countries

As a result of the disparity in the selection of criteria by different countries, ILO harmonises the data to ensure comparability across countries and over time by accounting for differences in the data source, the scope of coverage, methodology, and other country-specific factors.

From the data presented by The World Bank and dated January 2021, Nigeria’s unemployment rate, which stood at nine per cent, does not top the table list. South Africa has 28.5 per cent rate; Botswana, 17.2 per cent; Libya, 18 per cent; Gabon, 20.5 per cent, and Namibia, 20.4 per cent.

This and the different sources presented above negate the claim that Nigeria is the unemployment capital on earth.

The Verdict

The claim that Nigeria is the world headquarters for extreme poverty is TRUE.

Secondly, there is no sufficient data to substantiate or debunk the claim that Nigeria is the world capital for out-of-school children.

However, the claim that Nigeria is the nation with the highest unemployment rate on earth is FALSE. 

Author profile

Olugbenga is an Investigative Reporter with The ICIR. Do you have a scoop? Shoot him an email at oadanikin@icirnigeria.org. Twitter Handle: @OluAdanikin

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